Translating lessons learned from b-to-b

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David Nussbaum doesn't want to boast. But when pressed, the 20-year-plus b-to-b publishing veteran and former Penton Media CEO acknowledges that he's got a deep digital background, having worked in the Internet space since the 1990s. He's led large companies and knows how to best organize them. He knows the expense side of the house. And he understands the "hopes and dreams" of private equity firms.

That skill set, he said, will aid him in his first foray into a field where he has absolutely no experience—niche consumer magazines and books aimed at enthusiasts. Brought in last month by ABRY Partners to serve as chairman-CEO of F+W Publications, Nussbaum already had his strategy set after less than a week in the new job.

So Nussbaum isn't too daunted about the prospect of shepherding F+W's magazine and book divisions.

"I'm not leaving b-to-b," Nussbaum said. "I'm going to F+W. I'm going to an opportunity. I'm not leaving a sector."

He added, "I think b-to-b and enthusiast media look very similar. Enthusiasts are defined communities, and their communities are very passionate and very vertical. There are a lot of similarities."

It was only 11 months ago, following Penton's sale and his exit from the company, that Nussbaum formed Sundance Business Enterprises. His goal was to work again with ABRY, which committed $100 million in equity to the partnership seeking b-to-b media investments.

But timing wasn't in the venture's favor. For the first four months, Nussbaum found the deals were overpriced. His frustration grew in August, when the credit markets faltered while sellers' expectations remained high. When ABRY approached Nussbaum about taking over F+W, he decided to put Sundance into, as he calls it, "hibernation."

"I knew what F+W was. That was a bird in the hand," he said. "F+W is an exciting company to be associated with. It has great brands, [and] it's in a sector—enthusiast media—where the passion is just overflowing."

Nussbaum plans to greatly expand the digital presence of the magazine division, which includes such titles as Antique Trader, The Artist's Magazine, graphic arts magazine HOW, Sports Collectors Digest and Writer's Digest. The company already is in the process of hiring 18 e-media people and adding new software so it can build online communities as well as offer a combination of in-house and user-generated content.

"Our magazines were very well-read and important," Nussbaum said. "The events we run in a lot of these fields are very important. In digital, we need to run a little bit harder."

The book side of the company is further behind in terms of digital product development. Nussbaum wants to create online communities around the major book sectors. Also, he's intrigued by Amazon's development of wireless reading device Kindle and hopes to ultimately link some kind of device with F+W content.

Acquisitions, which have played an important role in the company's growth since 1999, will receive more attention in 2009, he said. "Right now, the No. 1 strategic focus and investment is going to digital," he said.

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